Firefly Rocket Engine Looks Luminous During Test (Photo)

Firefly Alpha aerospike rocket engine test
A test of a single engine from the Firefly Alpha aerospike rocket looks like a work of art in this photo, posted to the company's Twitter account on June 10, 2016. (Image credit: Edwards Media, Austin TX)

A white, hot column of flame firing out of a rocket engine, backdropped by white clouds and a blue sky, looks like a work of art in this photo from the private company Firefly Space Systems.

This luminous image was posted to the company's Twitter account on June 10, and shows a single engine — one of 12 that will be included on the completed Firefly Alpha aerospike rocket. The aerospike design uses engine nozzles with a slightly different shape compared to the bell-shaped nozzles seen on many other rocket engines.  

Firefly is a company aiming to build "low-cost, high-performance space launch capability for the underserved small satellite market," according to the company's website. The company's first launch with its Firefly Alpha vehicle is scheduled for March 2018. That will be the first of four launches contracted by NASA

In the picture, the engine is attached to the "live ring," which will hold all 12 engines when the rocket is fully constructed. (Many rocket designs have multiple engines, such as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which has nine engines.) 

The aerospike engine design has been around since the 1960s, a representative for Firefly told via email, but the company believes it "will have the first aerospike engine in production when Firefly Alpha becomes operational in early 2018," he said.

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Calla Cofield
Senior Writer

Calla Cofield joined's crew in October 2014. She enjoys writing about black holes, exploding stars, ripples in space-time, science in comic books, and all the mysteries of the cosmos. Prior to joining Calla worked as a freelance writer, with her work appearing in APS News, Symmetry magazine, Scientific American, Nature News, Physics World, and others. From 2010 to 2014 she was a producer for The Physics Central Podcast. Previously, Calla worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (hands down the best office building ever) and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Calla studied physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is originally from Sandy, Utah. In 2018, Calla left to join NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory media team where she oversees astronomy, physics, exoplanets and the Cold Atom Lab mission. She has been underground at three of the largest particle accelerators in the world and would really like to know what the heck dark matter is. Contact Calla via: E-Mail – Twitter